At WaPo.com, Sonny Bunch argues:
My friend Jonathan V. Last ably laid out the pros of the Empire and the cons of the Galactic Republic more than a decade ago for the Weekly Standard in a piece entitled “The Case for the Empire.” As Last notes, on one side of the ledger you have a meritocratic force for order and stability led by a more-or-less benevolent dictatorship that seeks to maintain galactic unity, facilitate trade and head off a nasty intergalactic conflict before too many people can die. On the other, you have a band of religious terrorists whose leaders include a drug smuggler in the pocket of slavers and a pair of incestuous twins working to restore a broken republic held hostage by special interests that tolerated its citizens being treated as chattel.
I don’t know about you, but the good guys and bad guys here seem pretty obvious to me.
So true. Star Wars has always been an obvious example of Victors' History.
He goes on to argue that:
Alderaan was a legitimate military target. Was the level of force used against it justified? It’s a tricky question, but it seems the least bad of all the alternatives. Consider another option the Empire could have taken: invading Alderaan, removing its leaders and installing a pro-Empire regime. However, putting boots on the ground in this manner would likely have destabilized not only the planet but also the entire region, creating a breeding ground for religious terrorists and draining blood and treasure for decades. It’s not hard to imagine a Jedi State of the Alderaan System (JSAS, for short, though they’d likely prefer the simpler Jedi State (JS)) arising from the ashes of some ill-conceived invasion and occupation.
This was probably just the sort of catastrophe that Grand Moff Tarkin was trying to avoid when he devised his Death Star-centered defensive strategy. The Tarkin Doctrine, discussed here, is one based on deterrence and the threat of force rather than the use of force. Granted, you have to use force once for the threat to be useful, but it’s easy to see the appeal of such a tactic, which is designed to save lives in the long run. Imagine the human toll — not to mention the enormous fiscal cost — of launching invasion after invasion of breakaway systems. The utilitarian calculation is complicated, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which fewer people died as a result of the destruction of Alderaan than would have died in a series of costly invasions.
Do go read the whole thing. And then go read my 2005 post Was the Alderaan Incident Consistent with Just War Theory?
Let us accept arguendo, however, the claims of Princess Leia and her apologists that Alderaan was peaceful and had no military targets.
Even so, one could argue that the destruction of Alderaan was not inconsistent with just war theory. To be sure, many just war theorists claim that the tradition requires both discrimination between civilian and military targets and proportionality. Yet, as LTC Peter Farber, an instructor at the Academy, has written: "there is no single, coherent just-war position. Rather, there are clusters of ideas that have waxed and waned through time, and they have not evolved into a transhistorical system of simple moral rules." Hence, as Farber notes, theorists long defended strategic bombing within the just war tradition:
... 1) it preserved and protected the just against the criminal (note the Augustinian emphasis here), 2) the civilians supporting their national leadership were equally responsible for the decisions made by that leadership, and 3) the vigorous prosecution of the war prevented an even greater loss of human life.
While the destruction of Alderaan may be regretable, it seems clearly defensible under this understanding of the ethics of strategic warfare. Indeed, as Tarkin noted, the very purpose of destroying Alderaan is to end the war more quickly. Hence, just as was the case with strategic bombing in earlier times, "the vigorous prosecution of the war" could be justified as an effort to prevent "an even greater loss of human life."
Personally, of course, I find the notion that just war requires discrimination and proportionality morally and ethically attractive. Indeed, I regard that understanding of just war vastly superior to the norms of strategic bombing. My defense of the Alderaan incident thus is mostly by way of playing devil's advocate. Yet, after reading Farber's essay, I must acknowledge that people of good will can and have differed on this issue. Hence, I am not quite as prepared as I might once have been to concede that the Alderaan incident is as morally straightforward as the New Republic's apologists claim.
I miss this sort of blogging.